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Google Kitten: How “friendly” is the mobile update…so far?


Introduction

On 21st April 2015, Google updated it’s algorithm by expanding the use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change was focused on rewarding websites which provide a positive user experience for mobile users, whilst having negative consequences for those not at this standard.

According to Google, the mobile friendly algorithm update has now been fully rolled out across the search landscape. This was confirmed by Gary Illyes (Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google) via Twitter on Friday May 1st.

This update is / was expected to be very significant, so much so that the 21st April 2015 has been referred to by a variety of names, such as mobilegeddon and mobilepocalyse.

But for the most part, the change has not lived up to its name. Dubbed to be more aggressive than Panda and Penguin, the update so far has a closer association with a kitten – opinion across the webmaster community is that the impact has been rather tame so far in comparison. Google reported a 4.7% uptick in mobile friendly sites on the day of the algorithm release. Therefore many companies took action to become more mobile friendly in the run up which is one reason for the decline in affected sites. However it is important to note that indexing and re-scoring of websites can take time, and according to Gary Illyes, not all pages have been re-indexed so their new scores have not been reflected in the search results yet.

Industry Movements

Whilst most have seen little to no impact from the update, there are some who are noticing changes in the search results. According to early data, Searchmetrics has identified the top winners and losers based on mobile SEO visibility; which measures the differences between mobile and desktop performance based on identical search volume calculations.

Searchmetrics points out that there is a clear trend in relation to the homepage of respective domains. Top winners have homepages that pass Google’s mobile friendly testing tool, whereas the vast majority of losers failed the test.

Analysis detailed by econsultancy shows that impact on performance is not limited to a sites’ homepage status. For example, although Barclays’ mobile friendly homepage has seen little change in keyword rankings, other pages which failed Google’s test have experienced a significant decline in organic visibility. Similarly, sites such as Asda and Siemens that are fully optimised for mobile have benefited with large jumps across a range of terms.

Results across our clients

Here at twentysix we have seen an overall increase in mobile visibility across our search clients. Prior to the algorithm update on 20th April, we benchmarked ranking positions for mobile search queries. Rankings were then re-ran two weeks later (on 4th May) and the overall results have been positive. On average across all clients we have seen a 5% uplift in the number of keywords moving up in the mobile search results.

Using before and after ranking positions, we have calculated the relative movement across all client sites and normalised this data to provide a more accurate comparison. The table below shows the performance of a selection our clients in comparison to the average movement we have witnessed post algorithm update.

Client Results Table

Click image above to enlarge table.

Here we can see how far each client is from the norm across all our clients. Understandably, each individual website, industry and marketing activity is unique, therefore a number of different factors will influence keyword ranking positions. However, this insight does provide a comparison and highlights that there is opportunity to take learnings and work to further optimise the mobile search.

Further to this, we have undertaken analysis into the impact of mobile algorithm update for each individual client, and the results echo those witnessed by the wider industry. 95% of all sites above the norm have a fully responsive or dedicated mobile website. Whereas the vast majority of clients who witnessed a loss in visibility do not meet Google’s mobile-friendly standard across all pages.

When comparing our client performance against their respective online competitors, it became clear that the sites with a mobile friendly homepage at the very least, have weathered the mobile storm for now.

Summary

Whilst it is apparent that the latest mobile algorithm update has not had a significant negative impact across the industry, it is important to be aware that Google has not fully re-indexed all pages in its search engine results. Subsequently it is possible that we will see further fluctuations as in ranking positions a result of the update over the coming weeks.

Google’s quest to serve users’ queries with the most relevant search results will continue to cause its algorithm to become more intelligent and follow consumer behaviour online. With the impact on organic visibility highlighted above, and further algorithm updates expected, it is therefore critical that the your website is optimised and provides a good user experience across all devices.

Afterthought

You now probably can’t stop thinking about kittens, so since it’s Friday why not check out the kitten GIFs below:

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